The Road


The Road
   "The road" generally refers to the vast web of legitimate and vaudeville theatres across the United States. Opera houses and theatres in cities and towns across America presented a steady flow of performances for the local public, while providing employment for actors, stage technicians, and musicians, many of whom spent their careers on the road. Going on the road, or touring, was corollary to any theatre career, for residing and working steadily in any given large city was rarely possible. Even the top stars needed to maintain their aura of stardom by appearing before live audiences all across America. Some actors and playwrights found little success in New York, while garnering a vast following on the road. Relying on railroad connections, the road flourished from the 1880s until World War I. By 1912, the Theatrical Syndicate wars had taken a toll on the road, which was further damaged by motion pictures, radio, and automobiles. Ironically, the demise of the road came even as Broadway was building to its peak year, 1927.
   In his autobiography Once a Clown, Always a Clown (1927), De Wolf Hopper commented on the usual pattern for touring companies to play "week stands in the larger towns, one-night jumps in between. This was routine in the theater from the time when the railroads first pushed West to the Missouri River until labor and transportation costs and the movies virtually destroyed the legitimate stage in all save a handful of the greater cities. Hundreds of actors of the first rank did not play New York at all, or for no longer than a week or two in a season. The road was the theater and the theater the road until about 1910. Plays customarily were financed and cast in New York, and launched there, because the boast that a play had come from a run at such and such a theater on Broadway was worth money at the box offices in the hinterlands. The Broadway engagement frequently was played to a loss, but what of it? Six months' losses in New York could be retrieved usually in three months on the road" (15-16).

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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